“Do you smell smoke?” Jake asked.
We were hiking around picturesque Timothy Lake in Oregon at about 8 in the morning. It’s normal to see smoke at night but not in the early morning, especially not on warm mornings like that one.
We were about an hour into what we hoped would be a 31-mile day, our longest yet on trail.
Through the trees, we could see a campsite but no tents. Jake went to investigate. A few seconds later, I heard, “The fire is still burning here! Bring your water bottle!”
After a month of cold in Washington, the weather is starting to feel like summer in Oregon. Hot oatmeal and coffee are unnecessary. We now breakfast on granola bars and cold lemonade. We’re using more sunscreen and breaking out our rain gear less often.
Naturally, the dry weather has us on alert for the possibility of forest fires, which in previous years have closed sections of the PCT.
So when Jake told me there was a fire, I rushed over to help him. He was already drawing water from the lake to pour over a smoking section of soil. A poorly extinguished campfire had somehow burned underneath its fire ring and was smoldering along a scar outside the ring. Jake poured a few liters on the scar, and copious steam erupted. The fire went deep.
I found a stick and started scratching into the dirt to find out what was burning. The fire ring had clearly hosted a huge fire. Large chunks of wood remained inside the ring. They blackened as if campers had poured water on them. The campers were nowhere to be found.
As I scratched at the ground I found still burning embers. The fire had migrated into the roots of a nearby tree. The more water we poured on it, the more it steamed. Because the fire was underneath the tree, it was tough to douse it with water, so I kept digging, trying to expose whatever was still burning.
Eventually, we started separating rocks in the fire ring as well to expose anything still burning below the rocks. Many of the volcanic rocks were still very hot to the touch. They smelled like a sauna and erupted with steam as Jake poured water to cool them down.
It took us about an hour and somewhere around 50 liters of water, but finally the fire seemed to be out. Tired and dirty, we resolved to hike on.
Just to be safe, I called 911 with the bar or so of cell service on my phone and was put through to the local wildfire dispatch. I was cautious about alarming them or diverting resources for something that was probably not an issue anymore. I told them that, while it wasn’t urgent, it would be good for someone to check on the campsite in a day or so to make sure the fire remained out.
A fireman from the area updated me by text later that day. They had found the spot and the fire appeared to be successfully put out.
It was tough hiking after all that, but the trail was kind to us and seemed to level out. We made it the 31 miles to our campsite, and set up our tent just before dark.